Crowd-Sourcing: Bonzanza or Exploitation?

Have you heard the new term “crowd-sourcing”? At first I thought this was a call for movie extras! It’s actually a creative way to get work done for free or for pauper’s wages.

According to  Jeff Howe, the person who coined the phase and contributing editor at Wired Magazine   “Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” Jeff has written extensively on this subject in his blog

Free or low cost talent willing to bring fresh ideas, conduct research and development, design new products, develop technology applications, act as focus groups, write articles, take photos, provde consumer reviews….the list is endless. What’s wrong with that? From the sponsoring company’s perspective, nothing! Paul Boutin at Business Week asks “Every business has customers who are sure they could design the products better themselves. So why not let them?”

To creat context for crowd-sourcing, just think about Google. Google posts search results according to their user’s choices (and charge their clients for the first 3 spots you see). Or Facebook and Wikipedia, where users create 100% of content with free labour. Who benefits the most? Last time I checked Google and Facebook are worth a very big bag of cash for founders and shareholder. Stephanie Findlay’s August 4th article in MacLean’s cites a case where the Guardian developed a user-friendly platform that the public could use to review and categorize 500,000 MP’s expense claims in the UK. The site was launched in a week and within the first 80 hours, 170,000 documents were reviewed by the public, for free, and ”inappropriate” spending by MP’s was highlighted. Wow! Crowd-sourcing at its best!

If you’re facing budget constraints, a need to quickly enter a market, scarcity of people or financial resources, then crowd-sourcing is a dream come true. An innovative leader can quickly put together a contest, internet site, blog, or call to action and distribute it on the internet where it is accessible to anyone and everyone. The cost may inclulde a cash prize, an offer of a contract or permanent job or nothing more than 15 minutes of fame.  

Participation is voluntary. Compensation, if any, is clearly stated.

Exploration? Or smart, creative management? …………..     You decide.


Linda Tuck Chapman is a seasoned corporate Sourcing executive and President, ONTALA Performance Solutions Ltd. Please contact her at [email protected] or 416-452-4635.

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